Why Europe should stop worrying about ‘sports washing’
the recent rage in the UK on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson intervened in Saudi Arabia’s failed attempt to buy Newcastle United and the indignity of La Liga boss Javier Tebas in the controversy over UAE-owned Manchester City united, and his alleged breaches of financial fair play, are only the last episodes of the endless debate on the âwashing of sportâ.
Authoritarian regimes using prestigious sponsorships and organizing events in various sports to distract from their human rights record, or other malicious actions, have been going on for decades and have generated thousands of headlines and a lot of hysteria across Europe.
This would be justified if the practice actually worked.
Credited to Azerbaijani campaign “ Sports for rights ” 2015, the term is now in vogue as a catch-all for governments seeking to bolster their international prestige through the unifying power of sport.
The examples date back to the 1935 European Rowing Championships in Nazi Germany and are as diverse as the 1958 Basque Pelota World Championships and the Bahrain Grand Prix.
New instances appear all the time.
In March, Saudi Arabia was accused of spending $ 1.5 billion on international sporting events to “obscure a human rights record of brutality, torture and murder”, with its failed $ 400 million buyout of Newcastle United and a $ 145 million deal with the Association Spanish football in the spotlight.
And yet, nothing has been “washed” at all.
The ‘Streisand’ effect
In fact, Saudi Arabia’s patronage has drawn more attention than ever to its poor human rights record and ruthless foreign policy. The Kingdom is never far from the headlines for its crackdown on dissent, the arrest of feminist and religious activists, and its use of airstrikes in the war in Yemen that some observers claim to have led to the death of 8,000 civilians.
Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is effectively the owner of Manchester City and the United Arab Emirates have donated millions to the club as part of a world public relations blitzkrieg to reinforce the country’s false image as the most progressive state in the Middle East.
Sheikh Mansour, working under the auspices of the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, has embarked on a frenzy to buy a world football club, anywhere from Melbourne to New York.
But where has he taken them?
The UAE’s international reputation is regularly destroyed by its own leadership in movements so blatant that no sporting dimension can hide them.
The country helped keep Maduro’s savage regime in power in Venezuela by support its gold sales and crude oil, defying US sanctions against a dictatorship that would have massacred 9000 of its own citizens in 18 months for “resistance to authority”.
The Inspector General of the US Department of Defense published a report at the end of last year, this showed that the US government was well aware that the UAE had helped the Wagner group in Libya financially.
This mercenary force is widely seen as an agent of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, fighting on behalf of the warlords in Libya seeking to overthrow the legitimate government in Tripoli, who are supported by the EU and the UN.
That such secret support for the authoritarian enemies of the West has been so widely disseminated and freely known shows how little sports washing can hide.
No eye-to-eye European journalist has been fooled into thinking that Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates don’t have major issues to tackle just because they are a leading sports patron. By owning clubs in European countries, both countries have brought these issues to the fore and made them tangible to a much wider audience than if they had remained as distant countries with little impact on the average European citizen. .
This ability of sports washing to turn against them has been observed many times.
Who can forget the organization by Russia of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014? There is no doubt that Vladimir Putin’s regime hoped for an improvement in its reputation, but the games ended in a public relations disaster the fallout of which lasted for years.
Global coverage of its perilous, dilapidated and unsanitary facilities, boycott human rights violations, protests Russia’s âGay Propagandaâ Laws, and one gigantic doping scandal sponsored by the Russian state which saw him become a world leader in cheating, firmly bolstered the reputation of the Russian government for both brutality and incompetence.
No doubt moral panic over washing the sport will reappear in the run-up to next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing as China seeks to rehabilitate its tainted stature following its cover-up of the coronavirus and its disease. ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims.
Like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Russia, China will find sports washing never works.
As the world drowns in the inevitable blanket of China’s failures, supercharged by the games themselves, perhaps all of these countries will realize that no amount of lye can remove the stains that cannot be wiped off. only through substantial and significant changes.